Someone Elses Nearly Perfect Albums – #8

I’ve just had a count up, over the 50 albums that have featured in the ‘Nearly Perfect Albums or its sister series ‘Someone Else’s Nearly Perfect Albums’, more than half of them have been debut albums which is an interesting statistic.  This weeks offering is another debut album from a band who pretty much need no introduction. 

Like last weeks offering this album would have featured in the main ‘Nearly Perfect Album’ series but luckily for us, someone else is going to tell us all about it – and do it far better than I could ever do.  That person is The Robster and the album is ‘Murmur’ by R.E.M.

I think I’ll keep this one short, for a few reasons:

1) There’s very little left to be said about R.E.M.’s debut album that hasn’t already been said several hundred times over. Swiss Adam, in particular, wrote this brilliant piece last year which I can’t even hope to improve upon:

2) I’ve written so much about this band that I daresay you don’t need/want to read even more of my fawning guff;

3) If you haven’t already listened to it and loved it like it’s your favourite warm, snugly blanket on a cold winter’s evening, then quite frankly you really need to stop reading music blogs and go and dig a hole in the woods to lie in for a few hundred years.

I was still three months short of my 12th birthday when ‘Murmur’ hit the shelves in April 1983, so obviously R.E.M. were not on my radar down in deepest darkest Devon. It would take nearly five years before its charms entered my life – December 1987, to be precise. Up to that point, my knowledge of Georgia’s finest was their then most recent two albums – ‘Document’ and its immediate predecessor ‘Lifes Rich Pageant’. Inspired, I sought out the band’s back catalogue and ‘Murmur’ became my third R.E.M. record. It sounded so very different to those louder, brasher, politically-charged later offerings. It sounded introverted and mysterious.

Let’s not focus on the 60s-tinged music or Stipe’s impenetrable, often cryptic lyrics – many before me have written about all that far better than I ever could. Instead, let’s just touch on what makes ‘Murmur’ a “nearly perfect” album – its songs. The re-recorded version of debut single Radio Free Europe benefits from two added years of gigging and studio work, arguably resulting in an improvement on the original (though the band members themselves tend to disagree). Pilgrimage is one of my personal faves. I like the way it builds to the chorus with Stipe’s ascending vocal: “The pilgrimage has gained momentum.” Then that triple-vocal attack in the chorus with Stipe, Mills and Berry playing off each other effortlessly like they’d been doing it for 30 years rather than less than 3.

Radio Free Europe – R.E.M (1983, I.R.S Records)

Pilgrimage – R.E.M (1983, I.R.S Records)

Perfect Circle is a long-standing fan favourite and one of Bill Berry’s first significant contributions, and it was an immediate standout on my first listen. Sitting Still is, and I doubt anyone will disagree with me on this (and if you do, you’re wrong!), one of the greatest non-single album tracks of all time.

Perfect Circle – R.E.M (1983, I.R.S Records)

Sitting Still – R.E.M (1983, I.R.S Records)

BUT – ‘Murmur’ isn’t perfect, only nearly perfect. We Walk is disposable, a b-side at best, while 9-9 is just a bit too weird for an album of shimmering delights like this, although it might well be I’d miss it if it wasn’t there.

The plaudits, acclaim and all-round love for ‘Murmur’ has never abated. It was hailed by critics on its release, it is hailed by critics and fans nearly 40 years on. And it still sounds like an absolutely essential part of anyone’s music collection.

The One Word Countdown – #18

A song for all the mating glow worms out there…..

Nightswimming – REM (1993, Warner Bros Records, Taken from ‘Automatic for the People’)

Points 142

If you ever find yourself in Bermuda in the first week of September, then you should probably enter the Labor Day Road Race.  It is a 10km run or walk that takes in the northern part of the island (or did when I ran it) and winds it away through Pembroke Parish before dropping down through Black Watch Pass (literally a tunnel cut into some rocks) and down to the finish.  It’s famed for its spectacular views of the ocean on the north coast.  One part of that north coast in an area called Spanish Point, which also if you are in Bermuda in the first week of September you should check out – but wait until the darkness comes, grab a few bottles of Corona Beer and pack some swimming shorts.  Because in those waters, at night and pretty much only when the moon is at its fullest, you will see the most amazing live sex show on the earth.

I’m not talking about American tourists getting jiggy with it in the water, I’m talking about glow worms, for some reason Spanish Point is the glow worms favourite pick up joint.  The females start it all off, they rise from the mud at the bottom of the sea to the surface and as they do they omit as bright green chemical which glows under moonlight and attracts the boys.  The boys then zoom up from the bottom and they pretty much have a party and give the watching crowds (and it is a tourist attraction) a spectacular light show, the erm, climax of the evening sees the males and females both, again, erm, release what can only be described as an explosion of glow before it all settles down again.

Michael Stipe says that ‘Nightswimming’ is all about an area of his home town that he and his friends used to go skinny dipping in when they were a much younger band.  It was the fifth single to be released from the bands ‘Automatic for the People’ album and is if you ask me one of the finest songs that the band ever recorded, the band have rarely sounded quite as gorgeous as they do in ‘Nightswimming’.

There are of course two quite well known cover versions of ‘Nightswimming’, both are pretty good in their own way. 

Nightswimming – Gene (1997, London Records, Taken from ‘Where Are They Now’ single)

Nightswimming – Jason Isbell (2021)

A couple of other REM songs that were considered before I plumped for ‘Nightswimming’, you could of course have this

Superman – REM (1986, I.R.S Records, Taken from ‘Lifes Rich Pageant’)

Or this

Stand – REM (1988, Warner Bros Records, Taken from ‘Green’)

Major League Music – #12 – Houston Astros

Houston – R.E.M (2007, RCA Records)

I think its fair to say that the people of Houston were, until they abandoned it in 1999, proud of the Astro’s stadium, The fancily named Astrodome.  It is, not, sadly, named after the behatted bloke out of UB40, and didn’t walk out each game accompanied by the cod reggae toasting of Astro and his band.  The Astrodome was instead the worlds first sports stadium to have a dome.  This rather exciting development in the world of design and architecture saw the people of Houston christened the Astrodome, the eighth wonder of the world, until they moved into a fancy new stadium named after a brand of Orange Juice, Minute Maid Park.  This corporate sponsoring saw other Wonders of the World follow suit, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon soon became the Dulux Paint Gardens of Babylon and the Great Pyramid of Giza become the Cillit Bang Pyramid.

The Astros are it is fair to say, enjoying a bit of a boom at the moment, and this is possibly down to some forward thinking by their management.  At the start of the 2010 season they were one of the first teams to embrace analytical techniques and this has helped them turn from being a middle ranking team to one of the most successful, they have qualified for the post season games for the last five years, and have been to three of the last five World Series (winning one and losing two). 

Musically, Houston has given us some brilliant music, most notably it gave us Destiny’s Child, one of the most successful trios of all time.   Destiny’s Child of course featured the future Mrs Jay Z, and one of the most glamourous Glastonbury Headliners of all time, Ms Beyonce Knowles who is of course the sister of the much more talented Solange.

Losing You – Solange (2012, Terrible Records)

Oh, go on then

Crazy In Love – Beyonce (2003, Columbia Records)

Putting the Knowles family to one side for a moment.  A friend of mine will tell you and then fight you all to the death if you disagree with him, that the finest band to have ever come out of Houston are the punk pop band Waterparks, and as he is younger, stronger and fitter than me I am not going to disagree with him.

Lucky People – Waterparks (2018, Equal Vision Records)

And todays, band that have been rescued from the green garden bag of obscurity and carefully placed in the relatively safety of the long grass by the shed are Paper Gliders. They apparently make intricate indie music and have three lead singers, which at least makes them slightly unique.

Petri Dish – Paper Gliders (2018, Self Released) Next Week the Blue Jays of Toronto – which means a guest writer….